Puppy Smuggling

Part of Youth Inmates: Solitary Confinement – in Westminster Hall at 5:27 pm on 2nd April 2019.

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Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Government Whip 5:27 pm, 2nd April 2019

And we will do it very shortly. This is a huge priority for us. Obviously, it requires primary legislation. I hope that hon. Members can see that I am as committed as they are to bringing this forward as soon as we can, but it requires other parts of the Government to work with us. We will push it through. I know that Sue Hayman will cut me a little bit of slack, because she knows that I am keen to move the matter forward.

The hon. Member for Workington raised resources. We have increased resources at major UK ports by one third since 2017, specifically to detect smuggled puppies. That has helped us to intercept tragic cases such as that of Lola, the heavily pregnant French bulldog, who has already been mentioned today. Last year, we also launched our new dog importation intelligence steering group. It consists of national enforcement agencies such as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, Border Force, the police and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who are forming a collaborative partnership with the Animal and Plant Health Agency to disrupt puppy smuggling. I know that my right hon. Friends the Members for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) and for Ashford (Damian Green) are concerned about that issue.

Our collaborative relationship with Border Force continues, and last year Border Force established a special point of contact at Dover, who is specifically in post to share information and intelligence on suspected puppy smuggling. DEFRA and APHA officials have been working in partnership with the Dogs Trust since 2015 on the Dover puppy pilot, which aims to tackle the illegal importation of puppies by providing additional resource to seize and quarantine smuggled puppies, as well as to ensure that they are placed in secure, caring homes afterwards.

APHA continues to be fully engaged at the border, and last year we saw a downturn in the number of non-compliant puppies seized. It is, however, too early to draw any conclusions from that single result, but we will continue to monitor the situation and to shine a spotlight on the issue.

Based on what we have seen so far, there is limited overall evidence of concealed smuggling, with the exception of one case last year in which Border Force collaborated with APHA to intercept 10 heavily sedated and concealed puppies. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire mentioned that case in his opening remarks. I will be discussing the issue in more detail with the Minister for Immigration when I meet her later this month to further our continued collaboration on puppy smuggling, which is one of the requests that has been made. We need a joined-up approach.

Improving and ensuring the welfare of animals is at the heart of our recent welfare reforms. In December last year, we announced that we were going to ban the third-party selling of puppies and kittens. I was proud to be able to do that. Third-party sales are often linked to so-called puppy farms and to shocking welfare conditions, which many of us have seen on video or TV footage. It is absolutely abhorrent, and a ban will mean that puppies and kittens younger than six months can only be sold by the breeder directly or adopted through rescue and rehoming centres.

When the selling of puppies is restricted to licensed breeders, that will also help to deter people from attempting to bring puppies into the country to be sold here. The ban will help to tackle puppy smuggling as well as to address welfare issues here in England. I know that hon. Members are interested to know when that secondary legislation will be laid, and I can tell them that that will be later this spring—so, very soon.